Sharks 2004 draft evaluation

By Cory Wilkins

A perennial performer at the draft table, the San Jose Sharks had an off year in 2004.

After securing late gems like Joe Pavelski (205th overall), Christian Ehrhoff (106th overall) and Ryane Clowe (175th overall) in the three previous drafts, the Sharks failed to do so in 2004.

To date, Torrey Mitchell (126th overall) is the only 2004 selection to log any significant ice time in the NHL. The undersized checking center has appeared in 82 games with the Sharks, scoring a respectable 20 points. However, Mitchell missed the entire 2008-09 campaign with a leg injury.

What is most interesting about the 2004 draft is that San Jose used four of its 10 picks on goaltenders. Thomas Greiss is the only drafted goaltender to play at the NHL level. Goaltenders Jason Churchill, Derek MacIntyre and Brian Mahoney-Wilson did not receive entry-level deals with San Jose, nor did defenseman Christian Jensen.

A late pick in the fifth round (161st overall) of the 2004 draft that was originally owned by San Jose was traded to the Minnesota Wild in a deal for defenseman Scott Marshall.

San Jose’s 2004 draft picks averaged a lowly 11.3 NHL games played, ranking 23rd among the 30 teams.

Lukas Kaspar, LW, Litvinov Czech Republic – 1st round, 22nd overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 16

It is not saying much when Kaspar is considered one of the Sharks’ best picks from the 2004 draft. However, the sizable forward did show enough game to convince Sharks’ scouts to choose him over notable picks like defenseman Andrej Meszaros (23rd overall), forward Rob Schremp (25th overall), who scored 145 points in his final year of junior, or defenseman Mike Green (29th overall) of the Washington Capitals. Fortunately for the Sharks, Kaspar easily translated his offensive success to a 51-point campaign with the Ottawa 67’s in 2004-05.

The following year, the Sharks signed Kaspar to an entry-level deal, assigning him to their then-minor league affiliate Cleveland Barons. Kaspar spent the next two seasons in the minors, finishing sixth (40 points) and fourth (41 points) in team scoring, respectively.

Kaspar finally made his NHL debut on October 29, 2007 against the Dallas Stars, recording three shots on goal, though he did not score any points. Kaspar played in two more games that season, held pointless, before being reassigned to Worcester. This past season, Kaspar appeared in 13 games with the Sharks, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

Kaspar, a checking forward, lacks consistency, though he will get every opportunity at this fall’s training camp to make the big club. Whether the Sharks re-sign checking forward Travis Moen, a deadline acquisition from the Anaheim Ducks, will be a significant factor on Kaspar making the team.

Thomas Greiss, G, Cologne Germany – 3rd round, 94th overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 3

If the Sharks have a knack for anything, it is drafting goaltending:  Vesa Toskala (90th in 1995), Miikka Kiprusoff (116th in 1995) and current Sharks’ netminder Evgeni Nabokov (219th in 1994). Greiss is no exception.

Greiss, 23, has potential to be a starter at the NHL level, though it is more likely he will fit better in a goaltending platoon. The German goaltender is praised for his poise, something most goaltending prospects sorely lack. Once Greiss can gain more experience at the North American level, he should be able to usurp the backup role from Brian Boucher and be accountable for a manageable 20 games.

In the AHL’s Calder Cup, Worcester clinched the final spot in the Eastern Conference, facing off against the much-favored Hartford Wolf Pack, winners of the Atlantic Division. Late in the series, Greiss came on strong, allowing no goals for a streak of 168:15. Winning the series in six games, Worcester lost in the following round to the Providence Bruins.

Through 57 regular season games, Greiss posted a 2.47 GAA, a .907 save percentage with one shutout. These stats improved in the post-season. In 12 playoff games, Greiss recorded a 2.43 GAA, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.

For any up-and-coming goaltenders in the Sharks system, playing time will be tough to find behind workhorse Nabokov, who has played a combined 139 games in the past two seasons. While Boucher provided excellent netminding in relief of Nabokov, the Sharks surely could save valuable cap space if Greiss wins the backup role.

Torrey Mitchell, C, Hotchkiss USHS – 4th round, 126th overall

Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 82

The team’s best pick of the 2004 draft, Mitchell is an ideal model for an NHL third-liner. Mitchell excels at the faceoff and has exemplary penalty-killing skills. Mitchell is a speedy forward who skates well and can chip in offensively.

The 24-year-old missed the entire 2008-09 season after suffering a severe leg injury at training camp, breaking his lower leg in two places. A restricted free agent this offseason, Mitchell will need a new contract.

Drafted late in the fourth round, it would be an overstatement to call Mitchell a draft gem, though he does hold high value to the Sharks. Drafted directly out of high school, Mitchell spent little time in the American League before joining the big club in San Jose. He will surely rejoin the team next season after appearing in four playoff games this spring.

Jason Churchill, G, Halifax QMJHL – 4th round, 129th overall

Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The earliest 2004 Sharks pick to be an NHL bust is goalie Jason Churchill. Churchill was drafted after posting average numbers on a terrible Halifax team during the 2003-04 Quebec League season. Halifax recorded just 17 wins in 70 games, with Churchill winning 15 of those games. Churchill’s .886 save percentage ranked in the bottom half of the league, as did his 3.73 GAA.

The following season, Churchill posted his best numbers in the Quebec League, notching a 28-18-8 record in 54 games, alongside a .905 save percentage, a 2.59 GAA and four shutouts. After three seasons with Halifax, Churchill joined the Quebec League’s Saint John Sea Dogs.

Without an entry-level deal from the Sharks, Churchill signed with the Flint Generals of the United Hockey League in 2006. Churchill is currently playing for the Clarenville Caribous, a men’s senior team in the Newfoundland West Coast Senior League.

Steven Zalewski, C, Northwood USHS – 5th round, 153rd overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Zalewski is a slow-developing prospect for the Sharks. Signed to a minor-league deal by Worcester, Zalewski proved he can perform at the AHL level, scoring 39 points and finishing tied for sixth in team scoring.

Zalewski ranks fifth on the Hockey’s Future Sharks prospect list, higher than any 2004 pick by the Sharks.  But the cupbord isn’t as full as it’s been in the past.

Like most low-skill forwards, Zalewski is strong on the grunt work. He also had a great work ethic, which will likely earn him a chance at a checking role with the big club.

Mike Vernace, D, Brampton OHL – 7th round, 201st overall

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 12

Vernace broke into the NHL this season, but not with the San Jose Sharks. His development seemingly stagnant, Vernace was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in 2006 for a sixth round draft pick. Since, the 23-year-old puck-moving defenseman has received plenty of opportunity on a weak Lake Erie Monsters club, the minor-league affiliate of the Avalanche.

Vernace posted outstanding numbers for a blueliner at the OHL level, as his 72 points in 2005-06 finished second in Brampton Battalion scoring to now-Colorado teammate Wojtek Wolski.

Criticized for his poor skating and positioning, Vernace needs to improve significantly before he will secure full-time duty at the NHL level. Still, he is a go-to powerplay quarterback in the minors and a bottom-tier defender at the NHL level because of his valuable offensive instincts.

Vernace’s stats dipped this past season, though he did not play as many games. Through 65 games with the Monsters, Vernace finished with three goals and 14 assists. The previous season, Vernace led all Lake Erie defensemen with 29 points. Vernace is a restricted free agent this offseason. On a rebuilding Colorado club, there is still no assurance that Vernace will make the big club, though he is the first call-up when needed.

Dave MacDonald, D, New England EJHL – 7th round, 225th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

You rarely see so many low-tier leagues represented in one draft year by one team, but Dave MacDonald continued that trend for San Jose, drafted from the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

Signed by the Sharks last spring after finishing at Harvard, MacDonald played seven games with Worcester at the tail end of last season before falling off the hockey map.

MacDonald tallied 14 points in 115 career games with Harvard. The hulking 6’4, 230-pounder was a defensive defenseman.

Derek MacIntyre, G, Soo Indians NAHL – 8th round, 234th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Their third of four goaltenders in 2004, the Sharks added Derek MacIntyre from Soo Indians of the North American Hockey League.

MacIntyre spent the next four years with Ferris State in the CCHA, where his numbers did not improve, as he averaged a .888 save percentage and a 3.28 GAA. MacIntyre spent this past season with the Danbury Mad Hatters of the Eastern Pro Hockey League, a lower-tier A league that started in 2008.

Brian Mahoney-Wilson, G, Catholic Memorial (USHS) – 9th round, 288th overall
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The fourth goalie drafted by the Sharks in 2004, Mahoney-Wilson is still in college, after getting a late start. After leaving high school, Mahoney-Wilson spent three seasons in the USHL and OPJHL. Mahoney-Wilson has spent the past two seasons with Lake Superior of the CCHA, posting average numbers last season. In 25 games, he notched a 7-10-6 record, a 2.66 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

Mahoney, 23, lacks size as a goaltender, his 5’10 frame weighing only 150 pounds.

Christian Jensen, D, New Jersey AYHL – 9th Round, 289th Overall

Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The third from last selection of the draft, it would have been surprising to get return on such a late pick.

Jensen, 23, is a blueliner who puts defense first. He has spent the past three seasons with Rensselaer of the ECAC. Playing in just six games this past season, Jensen tallied one goal, alongside a minus-two rating and eight penalty minutes.

Though he does not possess strong NHL potential, Jensen is praised for his strong skating and superb defensive awareness. There remains a slim chance that he could eventually join the big club.